Thursday, May 27, 1999

Star-Bulletin, Hawaii News 8 Poll

Voters: No one
fixing economy

Lawmakers are not providng
leadership, a Star-Bulletin /NBC
Hawaii News8 poll finds

Are unions too influential?

By Mike Yuen


Hawaii voters have soured on the Legislature, as 80 percent say lawmakers haven't provided the leadership to reinvigorate the state's anemic economy.

A year ago, 58 percent felt that way.

The latest Honolulu Star-Bulletin /NBC Hawaii News8 poll also found that 83 percent believe the 1999 Legislature did not go far enough in downsizing government.

Art In terms of Gov. Ben Cayetano, voters are a bit more generous in their assessment. But a majority remains convinced that Cayetano doesn't know what he's doing to solve the state's economic problems. Fifty-five percent say he hasn't presented a clear vision on how to boost the economy; that's down from 63 percent three months ago.

The latest survey was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C. The statewide poll is based on telephone interviews with 428 registered voters during a six-day period that began May 13. The margin for error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.

House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo) found the results troubling. "The House set out to do its job. We were right on course to reinvigorate the economy," he says.

Perhaps it is more difficult to convey to the public the importance of complex legislation such as the "depyramiding," or easing of the repeated imposition, of the general excise tax on sales and services, he said.

"Different interest groups saw how open the House was in its deliberations. They know where we were moving. We want a government that lives within its means," Say said.

State Democratic Party Chairman Walter Heen said while voters are grading legislators harshly, the divisions among the governor and his fellow Democrats who control the Legislature reflect divisions within the community.

For instance, she said, should taxes be raised? Should government assistance be poured into tourism as a way to revitalize the economy or should the visitor industry be left to fend for itself? Should the focus be on small business? Or agriculture?

"All of these things play out in the mix," Heen says. "Without a really dictatorial planning committee or group that says this is the way all things should be, things will be fought out, clashed over and revised to come up with some viable plan.

"The trouble with planning is that things don't remain static. You go one way and find out that's not the way to go. And you find other factors come into play."

But Donna Alcantara, who this week stepped down as state Republican Party chairwoman, is dumbfounded that a Democratic governor and a Democratic-dominated Legislature can't agree on a course of action.

That inability is what is behind the depressing poll numbers for Cayetano and the Legislature, Alcantara believes.

"There's no clear vision to lead us out of this economic mess," she says. "That includes the governor's majority legislators, who believe that he doesn't have the answers. He got virtually none of his legislative package passed. Then he ended up with his own attorney general being fired by the Senate. He's not able to lead the state, much less his own party."

Senate President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Aiea) says voters need to be aware that Congress has just as much impact on the isle economy as anything the Legislature does. But state lawmakers seem to bear the greatest accountability.

Moreover, isle residents by their spending habits also influence what's happening with the local economy, Mizuguchi says.

For example, Hawaii has a large number of pensioners, and many of them love to go to Las Vegas to gamble, says Mizuguchi.

But their spending in Las Vegas means Hawaii is seeing the disposable income of its residents spent elsewhere, adds Mizuguchi, who opposes having the state tax residents' pensions, as Say once proposed.

Unions too influential,
voters say

Pat Omandam


Two out of three people think public labor unions have too much influence on the way state government operates in Hawaii, according to the latest Honolulu Star-Bulletin/NBC Hawaii News8 poll.

Poll results show 66 percent of residents surveyed believe there is too much labor union influence on government, up from 57 percent in a March 1998 poll. Only 9 percent thought there was too little union influence on government, while 21 percent said it was the right amount.

Art The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., and is based on telephone interviews May 13-18 with 428 registered voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Poll respondent Tracy Rodriguez of Waimea on the Big Island said she can tell labor unions have too much influence just by watching how and where "the pressure gets applied."

Rodriguez said one way to solve the problem is to pass campaign contribution reform legislation that better regulates political action committees. PACs wield too much power over lawmakers, especially those elected in two-year cycles, she said.

"If you're going to election every two years, you're constantly fund-raising and having to be re-elected. It ends up that you have the need for money and they've got money, so it's a thing where you listen," Rodriguez said.

"And hopefully the legislators are going to vote their conscience, what their constituency wants. But it's just too tempting," she said.

Leaders of two of the state's largest and most influential labor unions -- Gary Rodrigues of the United Public Workers and Russell K. Okata of the Hawaii Government Employees Association -- did not directly comment on the poll. Okata, however, gave written comments on the survey.

Okata said the poll question implies there is something wrong with HGEA or other unions working hard to influence government decisions, and that there is something wrong with any influence unions earn through political action.

Labor unions, he said, have a duty to their memberships to be politically active and to work hard to elect legislators responsive to their needs. He blamed the news media for creating a biased environment for the state.

"The members and their families have strong interests in government decisions regarding the education of our children, the care of our elderly, the safety of our people or the social well-being of our community," Okata said.

"We are no different from what the other 1 million-plus citizens in our community want or expect."

Rodrigues did not return phone messages left at his union office. His remarks in the Star-Bulletin's "State of the Unions" series last October showed Rodrigues believes talk of union power is exaggerated and that union influence is relatively stable.

"Our influence is not at such a high level as people think it is," Rodrigues said at the time.

Others agree. Bill Puette, director of the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of Hawaii, said research does not support the belief that labor unions have an enormous amount of influence on